SPRING PLANTING: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED
This past month and a half has been a busy time on the homestead--a time of blog silence and frenzied outdoor activity. At our elevation, all outdoor planting has to be delayed until mid May, when the last predicted frost has passed. But that means that as soon as it's warm enough to do so, we rush to get the corn, beets, beans, squash, and melons in the ground. Tomatoes that have been eagerly growing in pots in the growing dome are transplanted outside, as are cabbages, broccoli, and several others.
The push to complete planting dominates our focus during the months of May and June. Throughout the spring we have been gradually preparing the beds--loosening the soil with a broadfork (we use this one from Lehman's), weeding, and working in manure from Sam's rabbits to build soil for the new year. Most years, Kindra and I do the majority of the planting; this year we all worked together as we were able, hurrying to get seeds into the ground. While Greg and I planted cucumbers, Kindra put in mangles, and Sam prepared the corn and watermelon beds. In our growing season, plants must be started as soon as the weather allows or they won't have time to reach production before the temperatures drop again in the fall. There is a sense of urgency, like an impending deadline, as we plan which crops to rotate, which plants need new trellises, and which areas need to be amended with a fresh load of compost coming out of the tumbler.
We wait to plant all the cucurbits until they can be directly sown into the garden. This was a lesson learned over time by trial and a fair amount of error. I had read in Carol Deppe's excellent book The Resilient Gardener (available from Chelsea Green Publishing) that vining squash and pumpkins grow a taproot. This means that starting in pots and transplanting them can lead to stunted plants that never produce well. Soon after we began growing squash we knew that we needed to start them outside as soon as the ground was warm enough.
It took us longer to learn the same lesson with melons and cucumbers. They are are also cucurbits, and they must be directly sown as well. Year after year we tried starting them indoors in pots (where they would thrive) and then moving them outside (where they grew slowly, foundered, or died). Last year we replanted cucumbers and melons to replace some of those that were failing. The direct-sown plants caught up and passed the transplants. We learned our lesson about starting cucurbits indoors. This year we amended their beds well with compost and sowed them directly into the soil.
The beans in the homestead's growing dome have been producing well for a month or more, providing an abundant supply of filet-style beans for the spring stir fry. Now that the weather is warm enough, we've planted common beans and runner beans in the outside gardens to provide beans for immediate use or canning through the summer.
While the beans and cucumbers will supply summer food, the squash, beets, and corn provide for us all through the year. (Read more about how squash are a hunger-gap staple in Why Winter Squash?) We had never been enthusiastic beet eaters--the homestead team ranged from ambivalence toward them to thinking they tasted like dirt--until we tried growing Lutz Winter Keeper beets. Not only do they have a sweet, almost corn-like flavor, but they store from their harvest in October until well into the late spring of the following year. They are one of the most reliable of all our root cellar crops, and their nutrient density makes them a powerful tool on our path to food resilience. This year we have both Lutz beets planted--for our food supply--and Intermediate Yellow Mangles. The mangles store equally well, produce substantially for the space they require, and provide a winter food source for the cows and chickens.
The last of the main crops to go in the ground this spring was corn. Greg and I used hoes to dig furrows in the last empty garden space and carefully dropped in kernels of Wapsie Valley Corn. For several years now we have been growing at least one plot of flint or flour corn each growing season as we experiment to find a variety that will thrive in our environment. Our summers are hot, dry, and short. This means that we need to find a variety that is both prolific in an arid environment and quick to produce. We have found several varieties we liked, but because of pest pressure or season length, we have continued searching for a variety that is a better fit. The Wapsie Valley variety has a long history and short season--we will see if it's the perfect fit we have been searching for. Corn is an important resilience crop because it provides food for both the homestead team and the animals, and because it is one of the few grains that can be easily grown and processed by hand. Even though we purchase wheat in bulk (like the soft white and hard white wheat available from Azure Standard), growing a grain of our own is another step toward food security.
With the last of the spring planting completed, we can turn our attention to tasks that have been on the back burner for the past month. Greenhouse lettuces need to be tended. Bindweed is taking over the pathway through the inner garden. The tractor--a 1967 International that we have named for the beloved neighbor who left it to us--needs some work on the carburetor. But each of these tasks is made easier by knowing that this year's seeds are in the ground, ready for the season ahead.
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